A Quick Primer on Growing Roses

Phyllis Heuerman
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Roses have a bad name as landscape plants, and with some justification. For most of the twentieth century, hybridizers focused on developing Hybrid tea and Floribunda roses. These are roses of classic shape, like those you see in bouquets, and are some of the most beautiful. However, they are highly susceptible to disease, especially in our climate. They also are heavy feeders. To grow them successfully, you must plan on spending your summer spraying and feeding them on a regular schedule. I grew these roses for many years and most summers they were ruined for the season if I went away and neglected them for as little as one week.

There are many roses, albeit of different form, that are equally beautiful but require much less care. Although I will mention one old rose that I am very fond of, many are new and have become popular over the past 10 years.

The only rose that I have found to be completely carefree is the Hybrid rugosa. This rose, which was first developed in the late nineteenth century, is completely resistant to damage from disease and most insects. Generally, it develops beautiful rose hips (seedpods) that turn red in the fall. It tolerates soils from clay to sand and high winds. Its leaves are crinkled and of a spring green color. Flowers are typically slightly double and have an almost tissue-like texture. They come in colors from pure white, to pink, to purple. There are even some yellows. They do not require any spraying or feeding. To say that I recommend Hybrid rugosa is an understatement. Some of my favorites are ‘Blanc Double de Coubert", a pure white, ‘Therese Bugnet", a pink, and ‘Hansa', a crimson-purple.

Beginning in the 1970's we started to hear about David Austin English roses. They are a cross between old garden roses, like you might have seen in your grandmother's yard, and the hybrid tea roses. They were an astounding new development because they are much more disease resistant than the Hybrid tea roses that everyone was growing. I find the David Austin English rose shrubs to be a bit large and rangy for most gardens, I have also had trouble with weak flower stems on some of them. However, they are beautiful and come in a great many colors and flower forms. If you would like to try them, I recommend a beautiful yellow, called ‘Graham Thomas', a soft pink named ‘Heritage', or ‘Lilian Austin', a salmon-pink.

Once the David Austin roses came on the market, other hybridizers began developing modern, reduced-care roses. They are highly, but not completely, disease resistant. They come in a range of colors and flower forms. Some are good for hedge and hillside plantings. Others are good specimen plants. Good landscape roses to consider are those with ‘Meidiland' in their name, e.g., ‘Pink Meidiland'. Another good landscape shrub is ‘Carefree Wonder' (pink). The award-winning landscape rose ‘Knock Out' has a red flower with a white center. Some good new specimen shrub roses to consider are ‘Michaelangelo' (yellow), ‘Francois Rabelais' (red), and ‘Morden Blush' (pale pink).

The roses I have recommended are generally available from good nurseries in the area. Some are available in home stores. There are also many good catalog sources for these roses.

If you buy the rose bare-root, you should trim broken or excessively long roots. Soak the rose in water containing vitamin B1 or plain water for 6 to 24 hours. Dig a hole 18 to 24 inches deep and 24 inches wide. Create a cone of soil in the hole around which you arrange the roots. Plant the rose with the bud union (the place, usually rounded, where the branches are grafted to rootstock) at ground level. If the canes of your bare root rose have not been waxed, cover them with soil for 2 – 3 weeks, until the roots are established. This prevents dehydration. If you buy the rose in a pot, plant it as you would any potted shrub.

I throw a handful of bone meal in the hole before planting any roses. However, I warn you that if you have a dog, the bone meal will create a strong incentive for him or her to dig up the rose!

Keep your roses well watered during the first year. They are fairly drought tolerant after that.

I do not spray my roses for insect problems at all. I do not want to risk killing beneficial insects, birds and butterflies in the process, and I have found that for the most part insecticides are not necessary. If your roses become infested with aphids, as they may, the aphids will be eaten by beneficial insects in a matter of weeks and the damage will be minimal. If I get Japanese beetles on my roses, I pick them off and drown them in a jar of water. If you choose not to pick them off, they will not permanently damage your roses.

Although the modern shrub roses are disease resistant, they may still succumb to blackspot or powdery mildew. Planting them far way from other more susceptible plants, (like Hybrid tea roses) will minimize the likelihood that this will occur. However, if it does, you may begin spraying with a good fungicide. If you do not wish to do that, try picking off and cleaning up leaves affected by blackspot to minimize the spread. If you choose to do nothing, these roses are so hardy they are unlikely to be permanently damaged.

The new shrub roses do not require the frequent feeding that Hybrid tea roses need. However, I do feed them in the spring, and perhaps once more in the summer. Any good rose food will do.

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